Bahrain MPs vote to stop Gulf Air layoffs
Manama, January 30, 2013
Bahrain’s parliament members yesterday voted to freeze hundreds of redundancies taking place at national airline Gulf Air as part of a major restructuring plan to safeguard the airline's future.
They unanimously approved the urgent proposal and also demanded the company stop forcing staff to take early retirement, according to a report in our sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News.
The vote had been due to take place last week but was postponed because half of parliament was missing.
It will now be submitted to the Cabinet for consideration. Gulf Air launched its three-year strategy to cut jobs, simplify its fleet and change its destination network earlier this month.
It hopes to achieve cost savings of 24 per cent by the end of the year and reduce the airline's losses from BD95 million ($250.5 million) to BD58 million a year by 2017.
No figures have been given about possible job cuts but it is understood up to 1,800 staff could be laid off as part of a BD185 million bailout.
Minister of State for Parliament and Shura Council Affairs Abdulaziz Al Fadhel defended the job cuts saying unprecedented measures were required to safeguard the airline's future.
"We want Gulf Air to continue and not to get disbanded and for that restructuring is a must and with it comes challenging matters that require addressing, using unprecedented moves," he said.
"I hope that this proposal doesn't get sent to the government and instead gets revised by the parliamentary committee concerned, which we will be happy to provide with all needed information."
Al Fadhel accused MPs of voting on the proposal based only on what they had seen in the media.
"We agree with parliament that protecting the local workforce is a priority, but protecting the company is a bigger priority," he said.
MP Ahmed Qarrata claimed laying off one expatriate employee in the airline could save the jobs of five Bahrainis.
"Instead of getting rid of the local workforce, the airline should get rid of expatriate employees, who drain five-folds the wage of a Bahraini employee," he said.
"We gave the government the go ahead to get rid of employees and strictly told them it should be expatriates and here we are seeing the opposite."
MP Adel Al Asoomi said Deputy Premier Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, who is also the airline's board chairman, pledged there would be further chances to discuss the restructuring plan.
"This week we meet the board to negotiate early retirement issues and as told by Shaikh Khalid we have every right to direct the airline in that regard," he said.
"The airline is already laying off qualified employees rather than those who are not beneficial and drain the budget and from what I have heard there is an official who is mistreating qualified employees to force them out."
MP Ali Al Durazi also accused the government of acting in a contradictory manner with regard to the restructuring plan. "They sack Bahrainis as if they were puppets," he said.
"But when the government needed financial aid they say 'Gulf Air is our national carrier and Bahrain's window to the world and without support many Bahrainis will lose their jobs'."
The proposal to freeze redundancies at the airline was originally submitted by 16 MPs.
However, at least 21 of the 40 are required to be present in the chamber and only 20 were in their seats last week. – TradeArabia News Service